The cause of cramps - how does magnesium work in our body

Do you like to run, or enjoy any other sport activities, but you are often affected by unpleasant painful cramps, usually in thigh and calf muscles? Some athletes are even troubled by cramps in their sleep, during cold temperatures etc. The most common solution for this problem is taking magnesium in form of various food supplements. Therefore some athletes are increasing their intake in magnesium before competitions in a liquid form, and they believe that it will solve the problem. But is it really for you and your body and sport performance the best thing? Is this fast help really the best what you can do for yourself? Many specialists definitely do not recommend these methods.



Magnesium is a light metal, and its main function in our body is a building function and support the nerves and muscles during activity, when they are working. It has an effect on the transmission between nerves and muscles. To make this chemical reaction in the human body happen smooth, it requires a sufficient amount of calcium and magnesium, ideally in a ratio of 2 : 1.

An important fact is that magnesium in our body contributes to the elimination of stress and alcohol. Its importance lies in helping the heart muscle function properly and, together with calcium, it can eliminate feelings of anxiety and nervousness. It also helps to release glucose, it plays an important role in bone building, supports teeth health, and even positively affects premenstrual syndrome in women.



Magnesium is normally excluded from our body by sweat or urine. Long-term physical activity such as running can deplete its supply in our body during dehydration and then it can lead to cramps. Sensitivity and inclination of individuals to lack of magnesium is very diverse, as well as their tolerance of burden in a heat.

The lack of this chemical element is manifested especially by irritability, insomnia or heart pounding. Our body maintains its inner environment in balance according to its own needs, fortunately it is almost impossible to overdose with magnesium in a normal way (e.g if you drink more magnesium-rich mineral). Your body will simply exclude the excessive amount naturally. For this reason excessive magnesium can cause diarrhea. This is why it is nonsense if we preventively take magnesium “into the stock” to prevent any cramps. Doctors caution against this idea because you will only put unnecessary extra stress on your kidneys.

In case you are preparing for a competition or race in a hot weather, it is of course acceptable if you refill the mineral elements into your body with various sports drinks, but no “miraculous” products will heal your cramps. The only exception in a last resort situation is the reality when you get cramps during competition or a race. These food supplements should be supported by muscle stretching as much as possible, and warming them up by a gentle massage.

But it is true that both of these extreme cases, whether the cause is the result of excess or lack of magnesium, occur only if the human organism suffers from some disease. The lack of magnesium affects those individuals who suffer from poor absorption. This is most often the case with digestive problems. To the groups suffering from its increased loss belong people with diseases that include long-term diarrhea, artificial (parenteral) nutrition, or an individual with kidney disease. Other reasons may include pregnancy or adolescence, during which there is an increased consumption of magnesium.



It is important to note that healthy person, who has a balanced diet and it contains all the needed nutrients and compounds doesn’t need any special food supplements in addition, it is not needed even in case of professional athlete, who regularly competes, let alone recreational athlete. And if you are currently not healing from operation or other serious medical intervention or condition, quality and diverse food will safely ensure you sufficient amount of magnesium for your needs.

A recommended daily dose of magnesium for a healthy person is about 350 - 375 mg. This quantity is contained, for example, in two bottles of mineral water containing magnesium, 200 g of lentils or soy, 1200 g of beef steak or 0.75 kg of chocolate. Ideally, the daily amount of magnesium is obtained from a balanced combination of magnesium rich foods. Among these are: legumes, nuts, almonds, bananas, cereals, dark leafy vegetables and chocolate.


If you are one of those people who are exposed to bigger amount of stress and you also consume higher quantity of alcohol, caffeine or sweets, your consumption of this chemical element may be even two times higher. Alcohol and stress can be the cause of increased excretion of magnesium from the organism. As a result of that running while having a hangover is not an ideal option especially for your kidneys.


The best solution in order to avoid these problems is to keep a healthy lifestyle and stay hydrated. Magnesium should be in accordance with that supplied into the body continuously and in a reasonable amount.

In addition to a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet, as was mentioned above, one of the methods is to instantly release it with a Shock wave (Radial Shock wave) if there is a situation where the muscle gets cramped during physical activity. The application of the shockwave could be used as an acute aid and if available, it is very effective and it works faster than a solution by swallowing magnesium in the form of tablets or solutions, stretching the muscle and manual massage.

Author: FYZIOklinika physiotherapy Ltd., Prague, Czech Republic
Source: Clinical experience from private practice in physiotherapeutic field, FYZIOklinika

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